Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 15th 2007
The Magic Circle Project, intended to give humankind a greater mastery over quantum mechanics, proceeds apace despite the protestations of numerous individuals over the danger it represents. The home dimension of Haruka may also be in the first stages of its convergence as Shangri-La makes more incursions, while La'cryma's status grows increasingly unstable. Haruka views slightly altered versions of her own past and life at the instigation of Noein but ultimately returns home, only to once again become the target of Kosagi and, later, Kuina – but it seems that Kuina has other motivations than trying to save La'cryma. When events land Haruka, Yu, and Karasu once again in both La'cryma and Shangri-La, Yu's life proves to be at stake.
Meanwhile Uchida and Kooriyama try to piece together what exactly is happening and where their priorities lie.
The content of Noein is such technical, mind-trippy stuff that, once again, the Synopsis above only begins to do justice to what all goes on through these five episodes. The quantum mechanical foundation of the whole dimension-hopping and dimensional convergence structure was firmly-established last volume, so the plot of this one runs with it further by delving even more into stable vs. unstable quantum states, defining everything in quantum terms, determining reality by perspective and observation rather than empirical measurements, alternate realities, branching futures, and complex technobabble slipped in once the writers feel that the audience is too flummoxed by the details to notice. It is heady, high-concept stuff on a degree not normally found in anime outside of titles with “Ghost in the Shell” in their name. It is also to the immense credit of producer Satelight that everything actually makes sense if you carefully pay attention and think about it a bit afterwards. Too often series which attempt this kind of approach get so bogged down in their technicalities that they hopelessly muddle their stories, but not here.
As with earlier volumes, this one strives to achieve balanced storytelling by mixing the freaky sci fi elements with the very normal travails of impending middle school students trying to enjoy their summer break. The drama involving Yu's overstressed behavior and his mother's ironclad insistence on him concentrating on his studies officially passes with this volume, resulting in a more relaxed Yu than we have previously seen but also leaving a gap in the storytelling that is only partly filled by Haruka's concerns about forgetting people from the past. More of the character drama instead falls to the adults, who have to deal with concerns about the Magic Circle Project, personal motivations, and Atori's returning memory.
Although the series would not be what it is without its character drama, the sci fi elements are still what truly power the series. Haruka's ability, as the Dragon Torque, to finalize unstable existences based on her observation gains a frightening new dimension when it becomes apparent that she can, in some circumstances, even use the ability to cheat death. Also in this volume the true natures of La'cryma and Shangri-La get revealed, more spectacular fights take place, lots of dimension-hopping goes on, and science applies to interpretation of existence in existential ways. In other words, just what you've come to expect from the series if you have been watching up to this point.
The irregularities in visual quality mentioned in the review of the previous volume have thankfully not continued, allowing the artistic quality to return to the level seen in the first two volumes. Some of the adult character designs are still unappealing, and the way character talk and smile may strike some as very odd, but the intricate and imaginative beauty of the CG designs for the Shangri-La entities and vessels more than compensates for disappointments elsewhere. The CG work combines with the sense of motion in the action scenes, the unusual style of the character designs, and other impressive feats of coloring and CG effects to create a unique look which not only stands wholly apart from normal anime visual styles but ranks as one of the most visually striking and original looks this side of Gankutsuou. It may not work for everyone but certainly can be impressive.
The soundtrack plays milder through this stretch of episodes, occasionally using the dramatic operatic themes heard earlier in the series but not overdoing it so much, and is better for it. The English dub also stays solid through this stretch, with strong performances in key roles and an English script that does not engage in needless alteration to the original. The English version of Noein (who gets more lines here than in any previous volume) does not quite achieve the chilling menace seeped into the Japanese performance, but that and a few lines involving the operation of La'cryma's dimensional transfer system not being included at all in the dub are the only minor flaws.
Volume four offers a much skimpier selection of extras, this time including on an art gallery containing a limited number of screenshots and a textless opener. The Easter Egg seen found on previous volumes seems not to have been continued with this one. The Set-Up does still include Spanish as well as English subtitling options, however, and it still carried an economical base price for five episode of animation.
Overall this volume may not be quite as strong as the previous one, but it still provides five more episodes of quality entertainment. The three-month wait for this volume to come out will not leave you disappointed.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : B+
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Involved writing combines diverse elements well.
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